As a Christian, participating in Communion has been an important tradition for me to repeat. This is because this act has regularly enlivened and encouraged me, bringing me closer to the God I love, trust and follow.
When I was a youngster, I thought of communion as a weird ‘snack’ (rather than a meal) which mommy and daddy ate. What in fact were they ‘doing?’ and ‘why?’ I don’t remember the first time I actually participated, but I do remember eating a peanut butter and Jam sandwich while drinking apple juice as a grade 3 student, on a beautiful, sunny day at my elementary school. My memory of ‘remembering’ Jesus that day is fuzzy. Maybe I was remembering a cut out of him holding a lamb on a flannelette board from Sunday school. And maybe what I thought of as the warmth of Jesus presence was simply the warmth of the sun. But that’s O.K.
As a teenager, who totally understood Jesus teachings, “NOT!” I read Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me” and thought that I would follow through with this. As long as I could make it cooler by consuming cinnamon buns and Cool-Aid instead.
Now as a chaplain in a long-term care home, I spend time thinking about how to make resident’s important life-giving memories relevant to them, though they may have been forgotten years before. For some, their ideas of being close to God never leave. For instance, Paula, a resident I talk with regularly believes that the place where she now lives is her church and asks me, “do you go to this church too?”
Some may wonder, “Because I no longer go to ‘church’ am I now banished from celebrating Communion / Mass and therefore can’t have a relationship with God?” Hopefully the answer is no, you are ‘not’ banished. Or others might express their puzzlement, asking how one can remember the importance of partaking in the body and blood of Jesus when he / she can no longer remember? Though the answer to the first question is usually a yes/no response, answering the second question is a little bit more complicated.
Teepa Snow is one of North America’s leading educators on how to care for adults with dementia. She tells a story of an adult child whose mother tells her, “I don’t know who you are.“ It would make sense to us if the child would respond, at least in her mind, with anger and at least a few tears. “You don’t know who I am?!” While the mother, oblivious to what she may have previously said, is confused, alone and scared as she looks into the eyes of an angry, crying, stranger.
But in response to the parent’s forgetfulness, Snow encourages the child to continue the conversation in this way:
Child - “Do I look familiar?”
Parent – “yes.”
C - “That’s good! Do I seem friendly?”
P - “yes.”
C - “Oh, that’s good. Do you recognize my voice at all?”
P - “Yeah.”
C - “I’m somebody who loves you. My name is David.”
P - “Oh, isn’t that interesting. Because my son’s name is David.”
Instead of giving the secret away, the conversation continues with the adult child talking about themselves in the second person.
Though Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, he is also the son of man, and the son of those living with dementia. So, I think he would talk about himself in the second person too. He might say:
J - “Hello David.”
D - “I don’t know who you are.”
J - “Does my presence feel familiar?”
D - “Yes. It‘s warm and comforting, like a beautiful sunny day.”
J - “That’s good! Do I seem friendly?”
D - “Yes. . . Oh, and I can taste a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a juice box.”
J - “Oh, that’s good. I’m somebody who loves you. My name is Jesus.”
However, and whenever we believed in Jesus, it doesn’t matter what it looked like. Though maybe they once did, what matters is that those who do not remember him, are remembered by him. So, just as it is the adult child’s responsibility to help their older loved ones to remember the things that bring them life, remembering Jesus’ death, resurrection, and his love for those who do not remember him is, and always remains, his responsibility.